Friday, March 18, 2011

BookClubSandwich: The United States of Arugula

Whewwww!!! I've put the fire in my hair out for the night, and I'm finally ready to discuss The United States of Arugula, by David Kamp!

While this book started strong, either because of its subject matter or because of the timing, I seem to have stalled at 3/4s of the way through. I mentioned in my previous post about this book that I thought it would be more about the evolution of food itself, while to the point I've read in the book about 3/4s, it's really a chronicle of the people behind the American food revolution. I probably should've known given the cover of the book as a "Last Supper" of chef portraits, but in my defense, I have the Nook version and didn't see the cover up close.

The "big three" in American cooking, as Kamp would describe them, are James Beard, Julia Child, and Craig Claiborne. Everyone is familiar with Julia Child, but I was far less acquainted with James Beard (having heard of the Award, but that's it), and not at all familiar with Craig Claiborne. It was really interested to read how these three sort of sprouted a food culture in America. French food was a heavy hitter in those first years of American foodiness, and it sprouted slowly from these three and spread to others such as Alice Waters.

Speaking of Waters, I first heard of her and her influential restaurant, Chez Panisse, on an episode of Iconoclasts years ago. I was swept away and totally rooting for Waters' when I saw that show. She was everything I believed in: slow, local food proponent. Quality food. Quality dining. Now, though, after reading Arugula it strikes me that Waters is the face of a restaurant made great by other chefs. Waters herself hadn't done much of the cooking, though Kamp does point out that she's a gifted salad craftswoman. I feel a little robbed now that I "know" Waters better. Hmmphf!

While this book is undoubtedly well-researched and well-written, I actually find myself getting a little lost and bogged down at times. Maybe the minutiae of these food-gods' lives are just a little too much for me right now, but I'm left wishing for something a little more...sweeping? Cohesive?

Now that I've rambled, I'm really curious what you thought if you got around to it. Don't forget to visit Kim to learn more about her take on the book.

Don't forget to leave a link to your thoughts below.


  1. Yeah, I'm not sure that's for me, but I bet my mother would love it!

  2. I'm on Chpt. 7 this's definitely not one to rush through...there's sooooo much to think about. I'm liking it though...annotating as I go and wanting to read more about so many of these folks...Craig Claiborne is from Mississippi and "attended" my alma mater so I did have some knowledge of him. I knew about Beard on Bread from working in a bookstore during my high school years and for a while in was an indie store in my hometown and we were actually expected to know something about books :)
    Julia Child I was less familiar with and really thought of her as a stodgy old lady (sorry Julia lovers), BUT have been so tickled by some of the vignettes about her that I may actually read through Mastering the Art of French Cooking (not that I'm going to make any of that...don't get too excited ;)
    I'm going to keep on reading today...and post my review after I'm done but I did want you to know I hadn't wimped out on you!!
    Received my copy of Affinity yesterday so I'll get busy with that next!

  3. I've nothing to add since I've not read this book and Alice Waters has always annoyed me a little for some unknown reason.

    I just wanted to let you know I enjoyed reading your blog today. Lots of fun, interesting posts. Thanks.

  4. Definitely recommend it to her if that's her bag, Kathy. Very interesting "poop" on all these famous chefs.

    Patti, I found the bits on Julia Child absolutely fascinating. Now I want to read her memoir about her time in Paris, for sure. Looking forward to your review!

    Thanks, C.B.! I'm totally annoyed by Waters now, and I definitely know why! LOL She seems like a bit of a phony!

  5. Didn't get around to reading this one unfortunately. It does sound interesting - even if not what you expected. I find the people behind the food to be so interesting. I think that is part of the reason I am a food network addict. I love food but even more than that, I love learning a little bit about people through food.

  6. Despite the book not being what I expected, I am glad I read it. As Kim would say it provided food for thought.


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